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Friday, May 4, 2012

Ways of Seeing

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“To whom does the meaning of the art of the past properly belong?” This is a statement by John Berger in his essay entitled, “Ways of Seeing.” If a person looks at a piece of art from the past then that person gets to decide upon the meaning of that piece. This is what I am going to do with a painting by Vermeer entitled, Woman Pouring Milk. Only I am going to use my eyes to help you better understand the piece of art work. I am going to help you understand the many ways that can hinder a persons perception on a piece of art.


First of all there are many things that I can not express in words that would just have to be examined by your own eyes. I can not describe how you would look at this painting; I can only state how I can see it for myself. So therefore you will best understand the painting, Woman Pouring Milk, if you just go out and look at it for yourself. This is the reason why I am going to inform you on the ways you can see art of the past and the things that are preventing you from seeing for yourself.


When I look at this painting the obvious comes to mind, there is a woman pouring milk in her kitchen. Why is this so obvious you might ask? It’s because of the italicized caption right underneath it. If there were no title to this painting then I wouldn’t have known what the woman was pouring or if she was even in a kitchen. This title is put there by a select few people who want me to see this woman pouring milk, when she might just be pouring water. Those people are making me see what they want me to see; not for myself.


There are also learnt assumptions including beauty, genius, truth, etc. that come into a persons mind when he or she looks at a piece of art, states Berger, on page 108. A person might obtain these learnt assumptions from high school. You might be taught about a specific artist in high school and when you go off to a museum you are going to apply those learnt assumptions about that specific artist. If a person did not have these learnt assumptions then he or she could better see the painting for themselves. When I see, Woman Pouring Milk, I know that it was painted by a famous artist, so I am going to think of the learnt assumptions of his work that I have been taught in previous years. This is part of mystification stated by John Berger.


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John Berger states on page 11 that mystification is the process of explaining a way what might otherwise be evident. A ruling minority is to blame for the mystification of art. They put words around painting, so that people will not ask questions about the painting and just accept what they have provided. This mystification blurs our vision.


Another object that might block our vision of seeing art for ourselves would be the market value. It does not say in John Berger’s essay whether or not the painting by Vermeer is expensive or not. It does not include the market value of the painting. This is a good thing; we do not want to know the market value of an art piece because that could very easily influence the way we look at it. The money value has nothing to do with the woman or what she is doing, so when you look at the painting you need to focus more on the woman and what she is doing rather than the market value. You can get caught up in looking at paintings just for their market value. You are more likely to go to a museum and look at the famous and expensive paintings, than you are to go to an art exhibit done by the local high school. This is quite ironic because if you went to the museum the market value of the piece will get in the way of seeing the painting for yourself, but you are more likely to go into a high schoolers’ work of art and ask questions to the piece to help your understandings of what is going on, because there is no amount of money attached to it.


These are two big issues that Berger describes in his essay, but there is one more left and that is reproduction. Woman Pouring Milk could very easily be reproduced and used for a milk commercial, and if you saw it on a milk commercial, would you see it the same? I know that I would not, because how do we know she is even pouring milk. We do not; that is why we need to look at Vermeer’s painting for what it is and not what it is being used for.


When you look at a piece of art work, you need to ask it questions, don’t be afraid of what it is. Just try to understand and relate the painting to what you want to see, instead of seeing the paintings mystification, reproductions, and commercial value. Maybe if you can get away from all the ideas I have stated, then maybe you can go about looking at this painting for yourself.





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